My friend, filmmaker David Kessler has just completed this beautiful trailer for Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself. It also features the music of my good friend Ben Warfield, who has just released his album, Songs of Light and Dust.
David really did a wonderful job: viewers at first will wonder where the book is, only to realize that they had been seeing it all along. Book trailers are still a relatively new thing, but I think David has set a nice precedent by going with a slower pace and lyrical treatment: there’s no reason why a book trailer should look like a film trailer, after all.
David has just recently completed a short film based on his visit to Iceland (you can see the trailer here). I’ve been assisting David on his ongoing film project about the Pine Barrens (I help as a location scout and guide, mostly).
My good friend Bill was kind enough to serve as our “Whitman” (How odd and fortuitous that one of my dearest friends should be a dead ringer for Whitman…)
My sincerest thanks to David, Ben, and Bill for lending their time and talents to this trailer.
I’ve seen him occasionally appear at events over the years, but I first met Milton Glaser around 1989-90 at an AIGA talk in Philadelphia. It was held in some beige conference room on the top floor of some hotel in Center City, I forget where. I think I was still in college at the time, very green. After the talk, I approached the man. Out of nervousness, I asked the most tiresome question imaginable: what advice did he have for someone starting in the profession. Mr. Glaser, who towered over me, could have rolled his eyes, and probably felt like doing just that, since it was in all likelihood the thousandth time he’d been asked that particular question. Instead he smiled, took my face in his immense hands, and gave me a pat on the side of the head in the way that a little league coach might. What he said was simple: “Hang in there.”
At the time, I thought I merely got the answer I deserved for asking such a trite question. But then twenty-five years happened, and throughout that time, I hung in there. In the beginning I hung in there because I wanted to, but now I hang in there because I have to: there’s no turning back at this point. The die has been cast.
“Hanging in there” is a simple objective, but it requires nerve, energy, and a variety of personal resources. Hanging in there was never easy and it still isn’t, especially if you’re a creative type who has run his own studio for fifteen years, and you never want a day job ever again (which is good, because regular employment is probably out of the question at this point). Living on your wits is never easy, otherwise everyone would do it—but the satisfaction you derive from making the most of your talents and abilities is as good as adult life gets. Awards and accolades are nice, but the big payoff is the unfettered, fulfilling life you get to live between such high points.
The esteem of people you respect and admire is the other big payoff: Milton Glaser is probably the most revered graphic artist alive. Someone like me receiving a letter of praise from Milton Glaser is like a local bar band receiving a fan letter from Bob Dylan. I’m deeply touched and honored that he would take the trouble to send a kind note like this. To say it means a lot is a gross understatement: after twenty-five years of working as a graphic artist, it’s deeply gratifying to get a nod from one of your heroes. Thanks, Milton.
The second animated gif made from the art in Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself, by Tin House.
The talented filmmaker David Kessler has generously offered to create the trailer for my book. It just so happens that my other friend Bill is a dead ringer for Whitman, and has agreed to make a cameo in the trailer. Excited to see what David does with the footage he’s currently shooting. Stay tuned.
“I saw what Matt Kish had done with Melville and immediately thought that the next natural step in this kind of project would be to include the text itself in the imagery. I wanted to do a poem, because of the brevity of form and evocative language. Whitman’s Song of Myself was an ideal fit, not just because it was iconic. The poem was long, it was broad in its scope, and its naturalistic tone posed an interpretive challenge.”
“The 1855 edition of Song of Myself is rough and wild in form, with successive editions becoming ever more structured. I wanted to take the 1855 edition and go in the opposite direction, make it even wilder, so that it ran in a torrent in multiple directions, like a bustling crowd or mountain stream.”
“I designed the book so that it too affected the reader’s experience. The small size and graphic density of the final book, combined with the non-linear arrangements of the illustrated poem, forces the reader to encounter Whitman’s poem in a new way. It causes the reader to slow down, turn the smallish book in their hands, and ponder the images and text. I wanted the book to be viewed as well as read. It is a visual record of the year-long journey I took through Whitman’s poem.”
My sincere thanks to Prof. Tyler Hoffman at Rutgers University-Camden for inviting me to speak to his Whitman class today. It was my first Whitman-related event. Very enjoyable.
I received a special thrill when I was given the chance to ogle the Nick Virgilio Archive. So much of his wonderful haiku work has yet to be read. I suspect his posthumous stature will rise in the coming decades.
(Photos courtesy of Peth)
For those of you interested in an excellent resource to help you better appreciate Whitman’s Song of Myself, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than this MOOC (massive online open course):
The Writing University Open Courses website provides MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) for creative writing through the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, which will offer new opportunities for the study and practice of creative writing and literary analysis to an unlimited number of participants around the world.
The first MOOC, Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, offers participants the opportunity to read, consider, and discuss the epic poem over a six-week course. Roy J. Carver Professor of English Ed Folsom and International Writing Program Director Christopher Merrill will lead the examination of Song of Myself through video lectures, live breakout sessions, and ongoing online discussion. Hosted by the University of Iowa’s Virtual Writing University, Every Atom will open in mid-February 2014.
Even after living with this poem for over a year, I am still gaining some very helpful insights through this course. Go here to sign up.